We first used a digital infrared non-contact thermometer back in 1993 to get some diagnostic insight into the failures we were having in my cold finished mill. Unscheduled equipment and electrical breakdowns were keeping us from profitability.

With this technology we could see mechanical failures developing before they shut us down.

When we built the mill in Georgia, the engineers never gave a minute of thought to the  operating temperature differences the equipment would have to endure compared to our experiences up North. We just  ‘knew‘ our problems were thermal, the failures ‘clustered’ in the summer months. How to prove it?

The first bearing we found running hot with our IR thermometer allowed us to plan for a repair rather than lose valuable production time.

That first preventive/proactive repair paid for our investment in what the boys in the shop thought was a “heat gun.”

But when we turned this technology to the electronics controls- that is when we hit the real pay dirt.

At a $3000 per circuit board and 5 days via air freight from Europe, our IR thermometer helped us justify to the stingy “Just say NO'” bean counters that air conditioned electrical enclosures would pay for themselves by reducing both downtime and  unbudgeted expenses to replace failed  sensitive electronic components.

And they did. The IR thermometer properly deployed helped us finally achieve our business plan.

Its much easier to achieve your business plan when your equipment is actually operating.

Today, IR thermometers are very affordable. But if I was managing a shop today, I don’t think that I’d be satisfied with just a “heat gun.”

Would you rather have just temperature numbers to base your decision on,  or a compelling image of the problem? (Images courtesy of FLIR)

This photo is worth a thousand words to the maintenance team, eh?

Electrical issues become pretty obvious using infrared imaging- don’t you agree?

Why wouldn't you want to know what this technology has to show you?

One of my favorite quotes came from one of the Dune series books by Frank Herbert- “Who knows what senses we lack that we might better see the world around us?” the hero asks.

Today I can answer that question.

“With Infrared Thermographic imaging-  we can see electrical and equipment failures before they happen.”

I can’t imagine trying to keep a shop running without it.

Video of IR imaging in your shop

Video- not just for the shop

Fluke IR


False: Preventive Maintenance (PM) is too costly.
False: Its cheaper to fix it when it breaks, rather than before hand.
False: Preventive Maintenance is just about routine maintenance.

They knew about Preventive Maintenance in 1965.
They knew about Preventive Maintenance in 1965.

False: Preventive Maintenance (PM) is too costly.
Actually, unscheduled equipment downtime is what costs you. Your people are being paid, but there is no production. Taking a machine down for PM makes no economic sense either. This is pretty simple to understand. However,  to minimize the costs of ‘doing PM’, when you do your PM makes a difference.  The  scheduling of PM to take advantage of equipment idle time is key to keeping it economically feasible.  PM should be accomplished on  lunchbreaks, during changeovers, or on back turns. Every minute that a machine resource is scheduled, it should be producing; PM should be scheduled for when it’s not.
Here’s my ‘Lunchroom Test’ of your PM program. If I go into your lunchroom at lunchtime, and your operating people and your maintenance people are eating together, YOU NEED A PM PROGRAM! While the equipment is not being operated, it should be under the loving attentions of your maintenance specialists. Maintenance is the job of the operator you say?  Well then show me the documentation of what they do. Each shift. Every day. Documentation, not just checkmarks. And when they do it…
False: Its cheaper to fix it when it breaks, rather than before hand.
I don’t know about your customers, (actually, I think I do know a little bit…) but I sold steel to companies just like you- in fact to some of you- who told me that they got ZERO PPM and 100% ON TIME from their ordinary suppliers
So presuming that your equipment doesn’t go out of statistical control before it fails (anyone care to place a bet?) the fact is that you are still vulnerable to missing the customer’s expectation of 100% on time when you have an unplanned equipment  failure. And if you built in extra leadtime, well, the lean boys have a name for that too. (Muda)
What is the cost of premium freight to make up for an unplanned machine failure? What is the cost of overtime for operators to make up the shortfall? Or the cost of retooling another machine just to keep the schedule? What is the cost of the lost production time on that unit or cell?
When we compare these costs to those of  giving the machine over to the PM boys for a few minutes over lunch, or after production… this is  an easy economic decision to make.
False: Preventive maintenance is just about routine maintenance.
Oil changes. Greasing bearings.  PM is just a fancy way of saying routine maintenance. WRONG! With just a little bit of imagination, using available and not so expensive tools, PM can identify troubles before they become failures. Non-contact thermometers can help you determine the changing thermal behavior of  bearings, motors, relays, and other electrical equipment as they begin to deteriorate. Sending out gearbox oil for elemental analysis  to your supplier can tell when critical parts are beginning to fail.  Vibration analysis can identify machinery ready to fail.  I used these techniques in a cold drawing mill for steel, they can work for you too.  But having these tools and techniques available isn’t enough. You have to actually use them.
Now is a good time. Between shifts. While operators are on break or doing a changeover. On ‘off shifts’. On weekends. Now is the time. Not when your customer calls to tell you he’s really in a bind, and needs you to expedite next month’s releases  moved up to this week too.
I told you about my steel mill PM successes. What is the best Preventive Maintenance tool or technique that you have applied in your precision machining shop? And how did it save you?